Virginia transportation officials began using the Internet today to allow the public to review all their projects, and see just how far behind schedule and over budget some of the projects are.
As of this afternoon, more than half of all state road construction projects are behind schedule, and one-third are over budget. Private contractors have made multiple demands for extra compensation in one out of every four road projects, according to the data posted today on the Web.
Using a stoplight metaphor, the site -- dashboard.virginiadot.org -- shows the status of projects as red, yellow or green. Green projects are on time and on budget; yellow projects are a little behind schedule or over budget; and red projects have serious problems.
Internet surfers who log on can see statewide statistics or information about individual roads, interchanges, bridges and tunnels. They can sort the road work by region or by project size. The site's data will be updated daily.
Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet said at a news conference today that he expects a healthy dose of public criticism.
"I expect to get a lot of feedback," Shucet said. "I think citizens have been waiting for years to be able to get feedback to any public agency. That's all right."
But the added public pressure will only help in his drive to turn around the statistics, said Shucet, who wants people to have the facts about the department's progress, whether the facts reflect poorly or not.
"Well, yeah, it makes you nervous because yesterday nobody knew that," he said of the information released today. "I think the public is going to say: VDOT doesn't hide anything from us.
Virginia has been struggling to pay for new roads, fix aging bridges and ease traffic congestion, especially in Northern Virginia. Local government officials, state lawmakers and everyday citizens have complained for years that the department takes too long to complete promised road projects. And several large projects have gone far over budget.
But those critics have never had an easy, accessible way to determine just how bad things are.
Adrienne Whyte, the chairman of the McLean Citizens Association land-use committee, said she doubts that the typical citizen will log on very often. But it will come in very handy for activists like herself, she said.
"Any time government provides information and makes it easily accessible, it's a win for citizens," Whyte said.
A longtime activist who has followed transportation planning in Northern Virginia, Whyte is not surprised by the number of projects that are in the "red" category.
"I don't even fault them for the fact they are behind," she said. "The proof will be five years from now when we see if there has been any . . . improvement."
On the Web site, citizens -- especially those who might be angry after checking the status of a road project they care about -- are given a way to vent.
With a click of a mouse, they can send an e-mail directly to the VDOT engineer in charge of a particular road project. They will immediately receive an automated reply, with a tracking number and a guarantee of a personal reply within about three days.
Officials said a proposal to include the phone number of the project's manager was scrapped because of concerns about a flood of angry calls.
The transportation Public Dashboard, as the site is called, provides information about road projects in four categories and uses a complicated set of rules to determine whether a road is on schedule, over budget or has too many work orders, which are demands for payment from private contractors for extra work.
Transportation officials said they believe the Web-based interface is easy enough for most people to navigate. But the system's true purpose is to give VDOT managers at all levels a way to keep track of their progress, officials said.
"Because this is a management tool, it has some bureaucratic-speak in it," Shucet conceded.